CNN is reporting that The Bourne Ultimatum made just over $70 million this weekend, making it the biggest August opening for a film ever. Which makes me very happy, and gives me a wee bit of hope that maybe Hollywood will realize that you can make money with films that deliver both adrenaline-soaked fights and chases as well as smart, challenging stories.
Renae and I saw Ultimatum on opening night, and I appreciated it on several levels. First and foremost, it’s an extremely great action thriller, full of superb action scenes, taut suspense, and enough globe-hopping to fill three James Bond films (more on 007 in a second). However, Paul Greengrass (who also directed The Bourne Supremacy and United 93) fills Ultimatum with thoughts and comments on the responsbility of governments, individual morality, terrorism, and a whole host of topics that feel especially relevant in this day and age.
One of my favorite dramatic themes period is the questioning evil’s necessity. In other words, is it ever right or acceptable to do evil in order to do good? And Ultimatum touches on this time and again, on both an individual level as well as a collective, or government level. In this day and age where it seems like more and more things that would normally be considered evil are being allowed in order to supposedly bring about good, Ultimatum feels especially relevant and charged. (Steven Greydanus touches on this in his excellent review.)
But here’s the thing that makes Ultimatum so great: Greengrass never brings up these thoughts and comments at the expense of the film’s story and characters. There’s never a moment where the movie suddenly grinds to halt in order to tell the viewer “An Important Message.” Rather, the aforementioned themes are woven into the very fabric of the film, such that every scene crackles with them — even those stupendous action sequences that find Matt Damon racing across Moroccan rooftops, or tearing through New York’s streets with assassins in hot pursuit. As a result, the film never has to stoop to browbeating to say what’s on its mind concerning those weighty ideas.
Having seen — and greatly enjoyed — the three Bourne films, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to enjoy a James Bond film ever again (and this coming from someone who really enjoyed Casino Royale). Granted, I’ll probably see the next Bond film, if only for nostalgia’s sake, but as others have pointed out, Bond now feels like something of a dinosaur, even with updating that the franchise received for Casino Royale.
Jason Bourne may not be as glamorous or fashionable as 007, but he seems more realistic, more human to me. You never care about Bond, you just care about the next exotic locale he’s going to jet off to, or the next exotic gadget he’s going to use to dispatch the bad guys. In contrast, it’s much easier to care for the nobler Bourne, as he risks his life and limb to redeem himself, to atone for the wrong that he knows he’s done.
Add to that the fact that there are still explosions and car chases a-plenty in the Bourne films, and you’ve got a set of modern classics as far as I’m concerned.